January 18, 2023

Penny Harter


Over the years, how often I have run to your
tin box or cardboard container, searching for
the perfect closure. Some of your kind are big 
enough for a skinned knee; others like the
butterfly can pull together delicate edges, skin
to skin. How frantic we are as we grab which
of you we can find in our cabinet of magic,
then tear the red thread of your wrapper down
your side as if it were a thin seam marked with
blood that you might staunch.


Not always welcome, though, is your after-life
discarded on the ballfield dirt, dropped under the
bleachers, or tossed into the waste beside the sick
bed, your stained face open and staring at us
with proof of what is kept inside—blood, pus,
any seepage from your hoped-for repair. Of all
your incarnations I love the butterfly the most,
a winged hinting at the transformation you will
bring to a child’s bloodied brow, or to the pit left
from an excised skin blemish taken for biopsy.


Indispensable helper, how carefully I peel off the
protective papers on either side of your sticky
promise to adhere, apply you just so, check you
frequently to be sure you aren’t soaked through
and need replacement. Even your name, band-aid
is so right, your purpose to aid the band of human-
kind, taking the place of dirty strips of cloth ripped
off a sleeve on the battlefield, or a roll of filmy
gauze too soon unraveling, lacking the glue that
binds you to our flesh, dear band-aid, little friend.

from Rattle #78, Winter 2022


Penny Harter: “After a pandemic year of writing frequent poems focused on offering hope to myself and others, I gathered those poems into a forthcoming collection. For some weeks after that, I stopped writing, but now it’s spring, I’m celebrating having gotten the Covid vaccine, and it’s time to move on into new work. The older I get, the more I realize we are a sum of all our memories, both easily accessed and well buried. In different ways, I feel these newer poems are simultaneously visiting both past and present.” (web)

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June 2, 2017

Penny Harter


When the drunk neighbor across the tracks beats his dog again, the primal howling jerks us from a dreamless sleep. Once I used binoculars to see what manner of man yells Shut the fuck up! at a dog.

after the fire—
an acrid stench haloes
the burnt trees

How convenient for this man to have a dog. How practiced they both are at it—the dog on a short chain cowering behind his doghouse, the man descending the back stairs with yet another chain wrapped around his fist.

repeated whistle
of the midnight freight—
headlight bearing down

from Rattle #55, Spring 2017


Penny Harter: “One late winter afternoon in the early 1960s, while sitting in the Douglass College library, I happened on a Conrad Aiken poem capturing a similar late winter afternoon, and time stood still. I was transfixed. I did not yet know I would be a poet, although the following spring I chose Emerson’s essay ‘The Poet’ for an American literature course paper. Then, in the late 1960s, while waiting in a school parking lot for my then-husband to come out from an after-school meeting, I grabbed a dry cleaner slip from my purse and began to write on the back of it a poem about how quickly the brilliant sunset was fading between the dark branches of a winter tree. It was the first poem I had to write—and when I held the finished poem, I felt something I’d not felt before: a passion! From that time on, I’ve never stopped. I write about what matters most to me, hoping that my poems can reach out and touch others. I write poems for the Earth and our planet in the cosmos; poems of memory and family; and poems probing the riddle of time, hoping to capture our shared experiences of love and loss. I have written to chart my grief at the loss of my husband in October 2008. And recently, to process my journey through cancer and successful chemotherapy this past year. Above all, I write because I must.” (website)

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July 4, 2013

Penny Harter


On weekends when the woman walks up hills, she does it to see the sun. At sea level, thick smog obliterates the sky, a gray and toxic smothering. Despite the altitude, once she gets above it she breathes easier. She has not seen such a blue sky from down below since childhood.

masquerade party—
strangers crowding into
a downtown loft

When she tries to get some of her co-workers from the factory to climb with her, they merely laugh. “But you can see the sun,” she exclaims. “And the sky is blue!” Her friends prefer the mall or the movies, so she climbs alone.

shooting star—
how briefly its wake
marks the dark

Years pass, and she has to climb higher and higher. Having retired, she can climb more often, but it’s slower going now. One day when she arrives above the timber line, stumbling among rocks shining with lichen, she is breathing in stabbing gasps. Soon she will be too old for this, she thinks. Head spinning, she clings to a nearby boulder and stares up into the blazing heavens. Then she looks down at the tide of gray creeping up the slopes. She knows it is only a question of time until she will be forced to go up and up.

moon colony—
again, the supply ship
arrives late

from Rattle #38, Winter 2012
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